Friday, October 24, 2008

EXPO LINE PROJECT HITS A CURVE IN THE TRACKS: Los Angeles Unified School District says crossings at Dorsey High and Foshay Learning Center would pose a danger to students.

By Steve Hymon | LA TIMES

October 23, 2008 -- When will trains ever roll into the Westside?

The Expo Line light rail from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City is scheduled to be done by 2010, but the $862-million project may have hit a big bump in the road Wednesday.

The problem: Two street crossings for the train that needed state approval were denied by a California Public Utilities Commission judge.

Judge Kenneth Koss ruled that the Expo Line should build pedestrian bridges over the crossings, both of which are next to schools in South Los Angeles -- Dorsey High and Foshay Learning Center.

It is potentially a huge setback for the Expo Line Construction Authority. If Koss' ruling stands, completing the needed environmental studies and building the two bridges -- with elevators -- could cost $18 million and delay the opening of the line one to three years, said Richard Thorpe, the chief executive of the authority.

He said the authority doesn't have the money: "If the proposed decision stands, we'll have to go back to the Metro board and request additional funds."

The authority had asked the PUC to let the Expo Line's tracks cross Farmdale Avenue at street level with crosswalks for pedestrians, many of whom would come from Dorsey. Nope, Koss ruled. It's safer to build a bridge over the tracks and also make Farmdale dead-end on either side of the line to prevent any conflicts between trains and people or vehicles.

At Foshay, the construction authority wanted to build the line atop an existing pedestrian tunnel under the tracks. Koss said that the tunnel would not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act and "would not provide an adequate level of general public access or safety."

Build another bridge, he wrote.

The rub is that Koss doesn't have final say. That goes to PUC commissioners, who will probably hear the case in November and who can accept Koss' ruling, tear it up or revise it to their liking.

Community activists from both South and West L.A. had fought the construction authority. The Los Angeles Unified School District had also joined the battle, saying the crossings near both schools would pose a danger to students.

Damien Goodmon, chairman of United Community Assns., said his group was not entirely pleased with the decision to close Farmdale to traffic. "What they do at this intersection is going to impact this community for the next 100 years," said Goodmon, also the coordinator for the Citizens' Campaign to Fix the Expo Line. Goodmon said he believes that the better solution at Farmdale would be for the train to go over or under the street -- and he insists that transportation officials can find the millions of dollars to make that happen.

What ultimately happens with these crossings could affect how street crossings are treated if the second phase of the Expo Line ever reaches West Los Angeles -- the reason West L.A. activists are involved in this fight.

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